About

kanji nut: 字源研究 (graphical etymology of Chinese and Japanese characters)

When I studied Japanese I tried to learn from Kenneth G. Henshall’s A guide to remembering Japanese characters the history and logic of 漢字 kanji. I enjoyed his book very much.

However, Henshall only deals with the kanji that were at the time on the 常用漢字表 (‘‘list of kanji for common use’’). That list has been expanded since, and even the expanded list excludes kanji that one may encounter in current Japanese writing. Also, as much as I appreciate Henshall’s work, at the time I was on occasion somewhat confused by the method he uses to analyze phonetics. The method seems popular with Japanese scholars, Henshall presumably following in their foot steps. Actually I am still working on comprehending (or rejecting as the case may be) the use of this method.

On these pages I try to expand on Henshall’s book. If possible I also try short entries in the style of Henshall (the yellow boxes at the top). :-)

Note: as of the summer of 2016 there exists a book called The compete guide to Japanese kanji, that deals with the new set of 2136 kanji. Supposedly it is an update of Henshall’s A guide to remembering Japanese characters, written by Christopher Seeley and Kenneth G. Henshall (with Jiageng Fan), but it feels more like a complete rewrite. Considering the style is very different and that Seeley is named as the first author, I suspect it’s actually written by Seeley. I started a Kanji notebook. There, occasionally I compare Seeley and the original Henshall explicitly, but I’m still in the process of digesting the new book.

I’ve seen other books about kanji that had all kinds of artificial methods to remember them, but I always preferred knowing about the historical development of a specific kanji (even if sometimes speculative) rather than some often silly ad hoc story. Mnemonics are a last resort. However, there is one guy who does silly stories very well (from an English language user perspective), the owner of KANJIDAMAGE. I sometimes visit that site.

Progress will be slow, thanks to the constraints of capitalism and neoliberalism.